Goodreads: The Swallow: A Ghost Story
Published: Sept. 2014
Polly and Rose live next door, but they lead completely different lives. Polly’s family is large and boisterous, and all she really wants is to be left alone. Rose’s family, meanwhile, never speak to her and neither do her classmates or her teachers. Polly wishes she were invisible, but Rose knows just how much that hurts. Polly, meanwhile, hopes to find adventures like the ones she reads about–maybe she’ll even see a ghost! Rose sees ghosts all the time and thinks she’s cursed. When Polly meets Rose, she thinks her adventure has finally begun. After all, Rose just doesn’t see ghosts–she may actually be one.
I’ll be the first to admit that, despite the old adage “Never judge a book by it’s cover,” I often do–if it’s as gorgeous as the one for The Swallow. Something that beautiful, combined with a plot summary about female friendship and the sadness of ghosts, promises one of those delicate, haunting reads. The kind that cover blurbs like to describe as “lyrical.” Unfortunately, though The Swallow strives mightily to live up to its cover, the execution lacks the necessary subtlety. What could have been a truly memorable story is, in the end, nothing truly remarkable.
The story has an admittedly rough start, one that could even be called heavy-handed. In an effort to juxtapose the lives of the two protagonists Polly and Rose, the author tells the story through their two voices. The perspectives switch after every other page, sometimes sooner, creating a somewhat jarring effect that takes time to become accustomed to. Worse, the opening pages are nothing more than exposition, the “telling” kind. Polly starts off by complaining about her large family. Rose follows complaining about her absent family. Polly wishes she were invisible. Rose is invisible. Polly is overweight. Rose is underweight. Polly wants to see a ghost. Rose sees ghosts all the time. “THESE GIRLS ARE OPPOSITES!” the story yells. Why that is so important, I never really found out. The girls, I think, would have been friends regardless.
Unfortunately, I think the story does think that the juxtaposition is important, but it fails to make its point. Usually one would expect that their differences would teach the girls to appreciate what they have, or maybe give them strategies to help them make their lives better. For example, Polly might invite lonely Rose over to visit her family or her example might help Rose to communicate with others more. Rose might give Polly strategies on how to create a space for herself. However, their friendship does not ultimately drive the changes in the story. Instead, the malignant entity in Rose’s house does. It’s unexpected for a story about friendship.
I wanted to love The Swallow, but the constant switching of perspectives, combined with a plot that often seems slow, made it a bit of a struggle for me to get through the book. I closed the pages feeling disappointed that this one really didn’t live up to its cover, after all.